"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Friday, February 28, 2020

Shaun Blanchard on Jansenism, Pistoia, and Catholic Historiography

It's always a delight to talk to new authors about their works, but in the hands of Shaun Blanchard we have a new book (some fuller thoughts on which are here) that contains multiple delights for those interested, inter alia, in the papacy, Catholic reform, early-modern Italian history, Vatican II, synodality, the synod of Pistoia, historiography, and of course the various beliefs we group under the heading of "Jansenism." As is my custom, I e-mailed him some questions about The Synod of Pistoia and Vatican II: Jansenism and Catholic Reform. Here are his thoughts.

AD: Tell us about your background

AB: I was born in a smallish town outside of Chapel Hill, NC. My parents are very devout Christians and always encouraged me to pursue my love of history. I had a great experience as an undergrad at UNC and spent a good bit of time in Ireland and England. That led me to pursue a masters in theology at Oxford, where the Sorting Hat fortuitously placed me at Blackfriars (the Dominican House). This was the most important time of my life – I really delved into Catholic history and theology (especially Vatican II and its reception), learned how to do a bit of research, and met my wife, a beautiful Australian literary scholar and creative writer.

After getting married, Ann-Marie and I both did PhDs in Milwaukee, where I worked under Ulrich Lehner and Fr. Joe Mueller SJ. After graduation, we were fortunate enough to both find faculty positions at Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady University in Baton Rouge, LA (“FranU”, formerly Our Lady of the Lake College). So I’ve spent most of my life in the South and Midwest, with about three years overseas. I’m a rugby fan (former player) but my real love is college football – I’m a diehard UNC football fan, which has led to a deepened sensitivity to the problem of Theodicy. Since getting married I’ve become a weird cat person too.

AD: What led to the writing of The Synod of Pistoia and Vatican II: Jansenism and the Struggle for Catholic Reform?

SB: I was initially going to write a dissertation on post-conciliar reception and debates about Vatican II. But after taking a couple of historical theology seminars – American Catholicism with Pat Carey and Enlightenment and Catholicism with Ulrich Lehner – I started reading as much as I could about the “roots” of Vatican II.

Lehner, an authority on the Catholic Enlightenment, was thrilled that I had heard of and cared about stuff like late Jansenism and Auctorem fidei. He really encouraged me and showed me such a project was not only possible but needed. Since I had virtually daily access to one of the leading scholars of early modern Catholicism and Catholic Enlightenment, I really felt I could do such a project and do it well.

Fr. Joe Mueller was always someone I looked up to, so I then approached him about an independent study on Vatican II and asked him if he would co-direct my dissertation, especially to guide me in reading Congar and Vatican II scholarship, with the aim of framing my discussion of “true and false reform.” It was in Fr. Joe’s independent study that I wrote an essay on “the Ghost of Pistoia” at Vatican II that Theological Studies published, so that gave me a sense I was onto something.

Thankfully, Lehner and Fr. Mueller were enthused about a bigger project along these lines. The basic starting point was that the common narratives of the roots of Vatican II are too simplistic, and they need to be pushed back beyond Newman or even the Tübingen School to include these internecine and sometimes unsavory eighteenth century debates. Once I realized how much I could do just on the Pistoians, I cut out some other planned material (more on Muratori circles, English “Cisalpinism”, John Carroll). Getting the Smith Family Fellowship allowed me to go to England, Trier, Florence, and the Vatican Archives. In Italy, I zeroed in so much on Ricci and his circle that the result is 135,000 words, but could easily have been 200,000 (that is, I am told, how a lot of these projects go).

AD: Am I right in thinking that “Jansenism” is one of those contemporary ciphers or bogeymen often invoked but rarely historically contextualized and understood? Do you despair that it now only ever functions as a “bizarrely resilient term of abuse in Catholic discourse” (p.304)? Is it more helpful, as you do (p.197), for us to speak of “Jansenisms” instead? 

To the first two questions: yes, absolutely. No early modernists speak this way about “Jansenism” – it’s always systematic theologians or clergy or historians whose expertise is in other periods. Probably the most persistent myth is this crazy idea that “Jansenism” ruined the Church in Ireland, or Quebec, or America, even though no historians of Irish or American Catholicism claim this (because there no facts that support this idea!). We Catholics seem to have the particular inclination to need to identify some sort of “ism” to blame for our problems (Jansenism, clericalism, modernism, etc.) rather than our own repeated personal and institutional sins and failures. It allows us to externalize our shame and our problems – kind of a “no true Scotsman” type reflex. We see this happening in the far more serious territory of the abuse crisis – “it’s really about progressives and their tolerance of homosexuality,” or “it’s really about conservatives and their clericalism.”

I have had so many amusing and frustrating conversations with people who just know what Jansenism is and really don’t want to hear anything to the contrary. One elderly progressive priest insisted to me that French and Irish “Jansenist” priests had imported maximalist Marian devotion (!) and a preoccupation with clerical authority and divine judgment to America. This “Jansenism” flourished in the 1950s, but thankfully Vatican II swept it away! Sometimes the more conservative Catholics will say – repeating some very poor online articles – that Cardinal Kasper or Pope Francis are bringing back “Jansenism” because they don’t think God “really grants grace to overcome sin” or some nonsense like that. Tom O’Connor at Maynooth – foremost expert on Irish Jansenism (as in, actual Jansenism of the seventeenth century) – warned me that the struggle was futile, so I really shouldn’t get bent out of shape about it.

While some people are open to hearing that the history is much more complicated, those who invoke the term polemically usually are not really interested in historical fact, just in slamming their opponents with a purportedly heretical “ism.” It allows them to bash some contemporary phenomena or explain it in a way that doesn’t challenge their preconceived notions. It’s lazy and also reveals a certain insecurity, even childishness. I guess if I’m being more understanding, the longevity of the term owes a lot to functioning as a stand-in for “rigorist” (kind of like the inexact use of “Puritan” in Protestant circles) and to some extent that is understandable.

So yes, we should speak of “Jansenisms” and we should distinguish between different stages of a pluriform / multivalent “movement” – if we can even call it that. Sometimes what the term is really describing, even in the early modern period, is just a tendency or a set of sympathies (Italian scholars are often careful to note a lot of “Jansenists” were really filogiansenisti who opposed the Jesuits and were Augustinians or moral rigorists). But more often than not people should just say “joylessness” or “rigorism” since that is almost always what they want to denounce, and no one group has ever had a monopoly on those things.

AD: Among certain French historians, of course, it is not uncommon to speak of the longue durée surrounding pivotal events, but you open your preface by really stretching that out, arguing that a work of Lodovico Muratori from 1747 is key to understanding the ressourcement movement and the Second Vatican Council. Give us a sense of Muratori and the significance of his work. 

Reading Muratori’s brilliant Della regolata devozione dei cristiani (1747) was a huge turning point for me. Here you have an eighteenth-century Italian priest – a massively influential intellectual who was close to the reigning pope – arguing for a liturgical and devotional reform that looks awfully close to what the twentieth century ressourcement circles wanted. Muratori’s works were translated into every major European language and were sometimes mandatory reading for parish priests in the eighteenth century. He was hugely influential especially in Vienna and in other Habsburg lands like Tuscany. English speakers knew him and appreciated him too. And Muratori was not the only one who thought like this. Cardinal Tomasi (1649–1713), liturgical scholar and Theatine, was recognized as a forerunner of Vatican II in the press release for his canonization by John Paul II.

But I need to be clear – when I say Muratori was a forerunner of Vatican II I am not saying that his work was used explicitly in the drafting of Sacrosanctum Concilium or anything like that. Muratori’s influence on Vatican II, I would argue, was very real, but it is also much more subtle and very different from saying Newman’s fingerprints are all over Dei verbum 8 (a fact that my friend Andrew Meszaros proved). While some of the council fathers, especially those interested in the Liturgical Movement, were certainly aware of Muratori’s groundbreaking liturgical scholarship, I point to Muratori first and foremost as someone doing liturgical, biblical, and patristic ressourcement over 200 years before Vatican II. When I say he is a forerunner of the Council I mean that his methodology and his conclusions anticipated Vatican II. However, it is additionally true that his liturgical scholarship was still in use and being cited in the twentieth century, so perhaps that fact is more direct.

AD: You note that your initial explorations into the Synod of Pistoia revealed how much it anticipated reforms at Vatican II. At the same time you note the fathers of Vatican II were haunted by a “ghost” connected to the condemnations of Pistoia. How in the end did the council negotiate this uncomfortable tension? 

Yes, this was really fascinating and I went through the Vatican II Acta very carefully trying to figure this out, because it was (by necessity) a very subtle undertaking, because no bishop in the 1960s wanted to point to these renegade Jansenists as a positive source for anything. I wrote an article about this (the “Ghost of Pistoia”) that was then expanded upon in chapter six of the book. I think in summation I would say that the “majority” council fathers negotiated this tension very deftly regarding ecclesiology. Certain members of the conciliar minority, especially Bishop Luigi Carli of Segni, evoked Auctorem fidei, the papal condemnation of Pistoia, a number of times to try to block ideas like episcopal collegiality, or weaken any notions they saw subtracting from or obscuring a strictly monarchical view of the papacy.

There were a couple interventions where council fathers pushed back against this that are worth looking at. One is by Bishop Enrico Nicodemo (whom I discuss on pages 276–80) and the other, which goes into great detail on Pistoia, is by the Chilean Cardinal Silva Henriquez (288–94). In every case, majority-position council fathers sought to uphold Vatican I while also trying to re-situate the pope-episcopate relationship as something collegial and, frankly, more biblical and patristic. Some did use quite charged language that could be seen as anti-ultramontane, like the Archbishop of Freiburg, Hermann Schäufele, who spoke of restoring “original rights” to the bishops. I find it profoundly unlikely that this learned German was unaware that this echoed language consistently used by Febronians, Jansenists, and Gallicans. I am confident his opponents noticed this as well.

Indeed, the conservative “minority” might have had the last laugh, since Congar reports that certain fathers privately raising “the spectre of Pistoia” to Pope Paul VI is what finally convinced him to approve the appendix to Lumen gentium, the Nota praevia explicativa, which frustrated so many in the majority, including young Josef Ratzinger.

AD: Is not the use made of Pistoia at Vatican II all the more remarkable given, as you document, that its ecclesiology in particular was so roundly condemned in 1870 at Vatican I? Given that condemnation, but also and equally given that Vatican II nonetheless makes use of Pistoia, are not the fathers of the council themselves offering us a proleptic model for interpretation? In drawing on Pistoia are they themselves illustrating for us, as you say, that “the council is neither in complete continuity with preconciliar Catholic thought and practice nor in essential discontinuity with it” (p.4)? If that is so, have we perhaps spent too much time arguing about continuity and discontinuity, when it is manifestly both? 

I think the council fathers do indeed offer a proleptic model for interpretation (a great phrase, by the way), especially the ones I cited in the answer to question #5. I hope the thesis of my book pushes such an interpretation further.

Of course, the council fathers were very careful to never explicitly “draw on Pistoia” as a positive source, but unmistakably the parallels were there and many of them knew it. John O’Malley rightly called the development of doctrine one of the most important “issues-under-the-issues” at the Council. With the guidance of periti like Congar and Ratzinger, the bishops were clearly starting to more confidently assert that development in arenas such as the liturgy, ecclesiology, and religious liberty was not only possible but desirable and even necessary.

To set up continuity and discontinuity as some kind of binary is, I agree, unhelpful and manifestly wrong. Sophisticated interpreters of Vatican II have always known this, but unfortunately I think certain progressive interpreters pushed a revolutionary narrative, while certain conservatives twisted Ratzinger’s words about continuity and rupture. The result of the latter was a kind of minimizing or even erasure of Vatican II in which nothing really happened. I think O’Malley and David Schultenover, among other people, were right to point this out and bemoan it.

Something did happen and some things did change. Much of the progressive revolutionary narrative seems to have died out (or rather attached itself to new hopes and new standards), but this erasure narrative is alive and well, at the highest levels, and we see it in certain clergy and theologians who pay lip service to “ambiguous” documents like Nostra Aetate and Dignitatis Humanae but in practice teach against them. To use a rather absurd example at the diocesan level (not my current diocese, by the way), a priest who told some young students that Muslims worship a demon and they could be possessed if they read portions of the Koran for their high school world religions class was confronted with Nostra Aetate. He replied simply that it was a pastoral document and thus not binding in any way, but only “advice.” So one needn’t wander into schismatic communities to get these “erasure” perspectives. The latent anti-Semitism exposed by recent discussion of the Mortara incident reveals many people have either rejected or not really received Nostra Aetate (or decades of postconciliar magisterial teaching and Catholic social thought, for that matter).

Soon after Ratzinger was elected pope, in Christmas 2005, he gave a fantastic address to the College of Cardinals in which he clarified and deepened his perspective on Vatican II, continuity, discontinuity, and the nature of reform. I talk about this at length in my book. Ratzinger does not insist on a rigid and static “hermeneutic of continuity” in which, for example, we should try to verbally square discrete theses in Dignitatis Humanae with the numerous relevant encyclicals of the past. This is to do what biblical fundamentalists do with scripture, and Ratzinger clearly doesn’t believe this is a valid way to think about Vatican II or reform.

What he proposes is a “hermeneutic of reform” which encompasses “continuity and discontinuity” but “on different levels.” Dignitatis humanae (and the last 55 years of magisterial teaching) is clearly, manifestly, and obviously discontinuous with some past teaching documents on some questions. And yet, Ratzinger argues, our new understanding of religious liberty is continuous with a deeper tradition of the early church and – although the “J” word is often conspicuously absent from such discussions – with the example and witness of Jesus Christ. The people who just can’t accept religious liberty and claim, ludicrously, that the true teaching of the Church still allows for violent coercion up to and including death for “heretics” (including, one presumes, Protestants!) really need to re-read this address.

AD: The Pistoian synod of 1786 is, you quote Luciano Tempestini as saying, one of the “most stimulating theological events between Trent and Vatican II.” At the same time, you note that the acts of the synod were “unmistakably Jansenistic in outlook.” Was it the perceived taint of Jansenism that led to their papal condemnation, or was the papal reaction made more neuralgic because some proposed reforms (“pseudo-democratic Richerist elements” [p.137]) touched on how the papacy and episcopacy were conceived and to be exercised? 

The funny thing about this is that the ultramontane movement, which was really born in this era (1780s and 90s) can, like the more radical Jansenists, look really unhinged and paranoid in their polemic. They perceived a vast conspiracy of forces allied against the Church and the papacy. While they were wrong about some major points (connection to Protestantism, connection to atheism) they were absolutely not wrong that there were multiple forces converging against the papacy (as it understood itself), the Jesuits, and many other things that ultramontane Catholics held dear. So when the opponents of the Pistoians saw a Gallican-Febronian-Jansenist-Richerist-Erastian hydra, they were actually right that all of these intellectual tendencies had found a home in Tuscany and in Ricci’s network of friends and collaborators, and that the Pistoian Synod was the most clear and dangerous institutional expression of this coalition of sorts.

Dale Van Kley’s most recent book calls this “Reform Catholicism” and it was a fairly cogent phenomenon in the final third of the eighteenth century. It had triumphed, resoundingly, in forcing the pope to suppress the Jesuits in 1773. Had the events set in motion by the French Revolution not paradoxically strengthened the papacy and destroyed “Reform Catholicism” by rewriting the map of Europe and the balance of power in the Church, Catholicism would probably be very, very different today.

That being said, reading through the committee reports in the Vatican archives made it clear that the drafters of Auctorem fidei were mostly concerned with Jansenism, which they saw as by definition infected with Richerism and Protestantism. The political component also loomed large – this was seen as pseudo-democratic, as levelling, as republicanism, and as part of why things had gone so wrong in France. So you are right to suggest a kind of panicked, neuralgic response was the result (the vibe of the committee meetings was “hey, we condemned this already in Huss, Luther, Jansen, Quesne, etc. etc. and one need only look to France to see what an emergency this is!”).

AD: I still insist to my students every semester that we break out the atlases and look at maps for understanding all sorts of religious movements and changes and conflicts as driven in part by “location, location, location.” You allude p.16 to the role of geography, and so I’m wondering: is there a link, in your mind, between the strength of the papal denunciation of Pistoia and the fact this synod was just up the road, as it were, from the Papal States—and not more safely distant in, say, German lands, or across the English Channel, or even the Atlantic? 

You are right to do so with your students, and I really need to incorporate more maps into my church history class. Yes, location as well as personnel made the Pistoia situation particularly dicey. Pius VI and his team of authors make this clear in the preface to Auctorem fidei. The enemy was at the gates. In fact, a lot of the intellectual and theological groundwork for Ricci had been laid at the Archetto meetings in Rome, which was an anti-Jesuit, Augustinian, and philo-Jansenist circle that included some really big names.

Now, popes would certainly have wanted to condemn these tendencies wherever they could find them, but it was one thing to have “French fanatics” spouting off about Gallican liberties (to quote an irritated Cardinal investigating Pistoia) or cold-hearted Anglo-Saxons and Teutons citing the Council of Constance – these things were commonplace. Even though there was a tradition of anti-curialism and “jurisdictionalism” indigenous to Italy that acted as a check on papal power, it was mostly pragmatic. The pope and his friends knew that what was happening in Tuscany was different. Home-grown Italian ideas were being combined with imported Jansenism, Gallicanism, and Febronianism, and to make matters worse, the sovereign protecting and encouraging all this was a bright and energetic young Habsburg. So they were really limited in what they could do. Peter Leopold, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, had already made sweeping changes to religious life, expelled the Inquisition, and totally ignored the Index. He kept Jansenist books by his bedside and backed and promoted the Pistoian circle.

As to personnel, Scipione de’Ricci was not some eccentric intellectual in Utrecht; he was scion of an aristocratic Florentine family (the same family as the Dominican counter-reformation saint, Caterina de’Ricci), educated partly in Rome, and the great-nephew of the last Jesuit Superior General, Lorenzo de’Ricci. So this was really embarrassing for the papacy, but condemning the Synod right away in 1786 would have potentially backfired politically. Once Peter Leopold left Tuscany to become Holy Roman Emperor there was a bit more breathing room, and when the French Revolution really began to spread, the papacy decided the risk was worth it and published a condemnation, at least partly to try to stem the spread of Pistoian ideas to Spain. Even then, almost every Catholic government blocked publication of Auctorem fidei initially. So while the papacy was especially threatened locally, they were still thinking transnationally about the problem, because it really was a transnational (and, later, transcontinental) problem.

AD: You note various strands of Jansenism and diverse movements for reform often grouped together and condemned under one heading even though they differed very considerably. To my mind there seems to be at work here the same dynamic one encounters with the Council of Constance and subsequent condemnations of “conciliarism” (treated so fascinatingly by Francis Oakley’s haunting The Conciliarist Tradition, which you cite). Is that a fair historical analogy? Do condemnations of diverse movements—whether conciliarism, ultramontanism, or Jansenism—ultimately prove unhelpfully over-broad? 

Yes absolutely. I started to think of Jansenism, conciliarism, and Gallicanism as similar umbrella terms. The rehabilitation of conciliarism and Gallicanism began many decades ago, and I think one has to be a very narrow and triumphalistic ultramontane to not see what is good and sound in many conciliarist-Gallican ideas and tendencies, and not just ecclesiologically.

Congar spoke of the neo-Gallican bishops at Vatican I as “the vanguard of Vatican II” and I think, historically, that is indisputable. This is not to say they were right about everything, but it is to recognize they brought a lot of good to the table (healing the Great Western Schism, for one!). I roll my eyes when systematicians talk about “the Gallican heresy” and “the conciliarist heresy.” It’s just way too simplistic. I’m sorry, but Bossuet was not a heretic. The fathers at the ecumenical Council of Constance, which asserted strongly conciliarist theses, were not heretics. They were saving the Church during one of our deepest crises, and to speak anachronistically like that is at best misinformed.

I try to follow the same process with Jansenism, putting out the many good and true things they defended, often very courageously and at great personal loss. But I also acknowledge there were crazy Jansenists (maybe literally – some of them seemed sick in the head!). They spiraled into polemic and burned out in bitterness, writing books about the truth being crucified and Jesus Christ under anathema and excommunication to describe their own plight. It is important to recognize that Jansenists had debilitating problems and the Church was right to condemn some of their ideas. Most of all I think they are just a cautionary tale about what happens when one gets isolated, sectarian, and bitter. That tale has some obvious importance for our current ecclesial situation.

Oakley’s book was extremely influential, by the way. It is a masterful narrative. I disagree on a couple details, but I am really indebted to him for having a treatment like that available in English. I considered using his image of an “ideological relay station” but when my project changed it didn’t really fit anymore. But I love that image for conciliarism.

AD: Following on from that, as you examined the papal condemnation, and then the many sources and personages at Pistoia and involved in Jansenism, were there difficulties for you in reconciling the former with the latter? Were the papal condemnations precise, fair-minded, and accurate, or did they tend towards the vague, the abstract, or even the grotesque? 

It’s definitely a challenge. The authors of Auctorem fidei attempted, and succeeded in, presenting a highly authoritarian and papalist view of the Church. Their attitude towards the laity – made clear in the proceedings minutes I read in the Vatican Archives – was often paternalistic and sexist. Of course women will misinterpret scripture and the liturgy, said one cardinal, so the Synod’s plan to encourage Bible reading and translate the Mass was crazy. Women and most lay men should just read prayer books and listen to sermons. On these matters, there’s wiggle room in the condemnations themselves, but it’s hard to square this attitude with our current teaching and practice, which seems much more edifying and evangelical, and much closer to scriptural and patristic attitudes.

That being said, the more enlightened ultramontanes like Cardinal Gerdil made sure Auctorem fidei didn’t suffer from the genuine confusion resulting from the in globo approach of Unigenitus (in which all the condemnations were listed at once and not attached to specific propositions). The most serious condemnations are qualified, thanks to Gerdil, with quatenus innuit (insofar as it intimates) and sic intellecta (thus understood), and this allowed people to subscribe who otherwise wouldn’t have (like Ricci himself), but also genuinely allowed a range of interpretations. I’ll subscribe to almost anything sic intellecta. So a bishop as reform-minded as John Carroll in Baltimore appeared to not have a problem with Auctorem fidei – he uses it a number of times in ecclesiastical controversies – and he clearly believed in de iure religious liberty and the wisdom of a vernacular liturgy. Was he being disingenuous? Maybe. But he was also being a good Jesuit and reading the condemnations with a great deal of elasticity (which, ironically, Ricci the Jansenist was forced ultimately to also do).

At Vatican II, the council fathers were forced to confront the ecclesiological condemnations since they touched on the episcopate, and they were the only censures of “heresy” in Auctorem fidei (8 out of 85 condemnations). They didn’t really go there with liturgy or religious liberty, because with the latter they really had bigger (and more recent) fish to fry.

AD: Tell us a bit more about Pistoia’s bishop, Scipione de’Ricci. It seems his vision and hope for the synod extended beyond Tuscany to cover most of the Italian peninsula and much of the wider church. Was he the Cardinal Marx of his day, if you would—leader of a synodal movement loved and loathed by others around the world? 

Oh my! I could go on and on about Ricci, but I will try to restrain myself. I read thousands of his letters and virtually all of his pamphlets and surviving homilies. My wife, who revels in Baroque piety, was getting worried because she thought he sounded really lame. I hope to write a biography someday. To be really provocative I could call it Scipione de’Ricci, Bishop of Pistoia: A Catholic Luther (a title Ricci would’ve hated but his enemies would’ve loved). Or perhaps subtitle it Portrait of a Fanatic. That would make more sense. Ricci admired Savonarola so much, because both men were, above all, fanatics.

I think the first thing to say is that when we look into the past honestly we see that all of these people are a mixed bag, because we are all a battleground of sin and grace. I greatly admire John Carroll, our first American bishop. He was right on religious liberty and had great liturgical sensibilities. And yet he owned slaves. I admire and read St. Thomas Aquinas, yet it was this gentle man’s lines in the Summa on executing heretics that were so often cited to support such a horrific practice. If we can contextualize their faults (and I think we can and should) we should also contextualize and seek to understand both the good and the bad in a figure like Ricci.

Ricci was a serious, devout Christian who deeply loved his people and really wanted them to experience Jesus in the scriptures and sacraments and go to heaven. His tenderness and his genuine pastoral heart comes across in many letters and homilies. Unfortunately, he was extremely arrogant and totally ruined by polemic. He could be harsh and polarizing man. His fundamental flaw, highlighted by S. J. Miller, was “an utter unwillingness to see any good in those who opposed him.”

Ricci’s story is so tragic. There was a window there were he could have collaborated with good, holy prelates who were open to reform like Cardinal Gioanetti in Bologna and Archbishop Martini in Florence, but he alienated them with his intransigence. He still could have capitalized on a lot of goodwill amongst the priests in his twin diocese, but he confused and angered most of the laity with his abrupt changes and met those who protested him with aloof haughtiness. His pattern of behavior when he was opposed was not one of listening or dialoguing – he tried to silence, bully, or marginalize anyone who disagreed with him. Ricci’s story alone, as a kind of photo negative of the Congarian “true reformer” makes the history of the Synod of Pistoia applicable to our own day in the Church. Congar gets some stuff wrong about Jansenism but I think he is right when he said that Jansenists were wrong not necessarily in believing they had the truth, but in believing no one else had it.

Your reference to Cardinal Marx is really interesting. Yes, in the sense that Ricci really was planning for a Europe-wide (I suppose eventually worldwide) reform of Catholicism through diocesan and then national synods (and in this he was in step with broader Jansenist networks in Utrecht and France), there are parallels with Marx and the current talk of a Synodal Way. Certainly one’s opinion of both men is a fairly reliable litmus test of what one thinks about a variety of issues. But I will resist the temptation to say any more, and to say whether I think Ricci is more like Marx or Burke, Kasper or Schneider!

AD: Your long footnote on p.9 traces out some of the contemporary invocations by so-called traditionalists positing a link between Pistoia and Vatican II, especially with regards to liturgical reform. I confess that I’ve grown extremely tired of these “armchair genealogists” as MacIntyre might call them. They think they have accomplished something significant, perhaps even interesting, by asserting links between two events or personages—but have they? Is their whole point simply to suggest that the condemnation of Pistoian reforms by Pius VI should somehow still apply to comparable reforms at and after Vatican II? 

Evocations of the kind you describe are definitely done to try to discredit Vatican II or at least its implementation. These sloppy geneaologies are almost never done by people who are acquainted with the actual history. Most have just read Denzinger, or seen it cited on Twitter or a blog. I have even seen anti-Francis people who think it is Pius VI condemning the synod of a previous pope, which gives them hope that a future Pope Pius XIII will come and save them from Amoris Laetitia and the Synod on the Amazon!

And yet, the similarities are there and they are undeniable. Someone like Bernard Fellay of SSPX seeing in Lumen Gentium the ghost of early modern opponents of ultramontanism (he traces collegiality to Jansenism and calls it a “timebomb”) is not completely wrong. The council fathers were aware of this, as I show in the book. This is why only looking at discrete theses is not enough – one must have a hermeneutic of change and reform. Ironically, the fact the some so-called “traditionalists” lack this makes them susceptible to the same mistakes their hated “Jansenists” made.

AD: You refer (p. 201, fn. 17) to “the antiquarianism of many late Jansenist appeals to primitive church order and synodality.” Can you clarify what is meant by antiquarianism, both as you use it, and as it shows up as a term of reprobation in papal documents (e.g., Mediator Dei 63-64)? 

Yes, this is an important point. Pius XII slammed the Pistoians for this in Mediator Dei. His words in the passage you cite were a little over the top, and typical of papal polemic against Jansenism, but he had a real point. The Jansenists had vast historical learning but little “sense of history” (if you will) – they lacked the kind of historical consciousness that people like Muratori and, later, Newman, were figuring out. They of course instinctively understood a kind of pragmatic change and development, but they could be rigidly “fixiste” and die on a hill about stupid things. I say on page 254 (note 278) “any theological, disciplinary, or pastoral differences between the past and the present that the Jansenists encountered in their books were simply deficiencies on the part of the present Church.” That’s a bit of an exaggeration but not far off. They would select certain authors (of course Augustine first and foremost) or times and events in church history and then use those loci to too sweepingly discredit the contemporary church.

In True and False Reform Congar got some stuff wrong, in my opinion, about eighteenth-century Catholicism. But on this point about the relationship between past and present he was totally right on, and he wanted to make sure that ressourcement figures in his day and age got this right and didn’t shipwreck their reforms as late Jansenists, Josephinists, and radical Gallicans did. You can’t go back. He was right about this.

Circling around to Pius XII, I think he was preemptively fending off any idea that his own liturgical renewal – which involved restoring old things that had lapsed into disuse, like elements of the Triduum liturgies – was not mistaken for a kind of liturgical archaeology or primitivism. Anyone interested in cautious, sane reform should look into Pius XII. His positive legacy is, I think, underestimated by theologians. Ulrich Lehner has pointed out he is the most frequently cited non-biblical source at Vatican II!

AD: Sum up your hopes for the book, and tell us who especially would benefit from reading it.

I hope the book is read and enjoyed by anyone interested in early modern Catholicism, Vatican II, Jansenism, or the issues of continuity-discontinuity and true and false reform. I think certain ecclesiological issues that are very much still with us – you highlighted most or all of them in your questions – have an important history that people could learn something about from the book. My fear for the book was that it would suffer from “Goldilocks syndrome”; that is, that it would be perceived as too historical for theology folks, and too theological for historians. But initial feedback has been that this is not the case. I hope that continues.

Finally, I hope it can be comforting to people who feel exhausted and beaten down by all the controversy and mean-spiritedness on display in the Church today. I never thought of the book like this, but a couple Catholic friends who read it said they felt relieved to see that past generations have suffered from polarization, misunderstandings, and genuine crises but the Church and the faith have always endured. I was really touched to hear this.

AD: Having finished The Synod of Pistoia and Vatican II, what projects are you at work on now? 

Ulrich Lehner and I are co-editing an anthology of Catholic Enlightenment texts. This is a really exciting project which will bring Polish, German, Portuguese, Spanish, Mexican, Brazilian, and Italian texts into English for the first time. With the assistance of Glauco Schettini, I translated a 5000-word portion from Muratori’s Della regolata. We also have an amazing selection from a Mexican intellectual arguing in favor of indigenous use of marijuana. So it should be an intriguing selection of texts for undergrad classrooms and for academics interested in Catholic Enlightenment.

Next, my friend Stephen Bullivant and I are co-authoring a book on Vatican II’s for Oxford University Press’ Very Short Introduction series. This is a good chance for me to get out of the 1700s and return to the rapidly growing literature on Vatican II, and I love any chance to work with Stephen, preferably over multiple espressos, fried chicken burgers, and pints of ale.

I also have a number of smaller projects I’m excited about, like chapters in the forthcoming Oxford History of British and Irish Catholicism and the new Cambridge History of the Papacy. This summer I spend time in Ireland, England, Austria, and Italy and will have a chance to do some research and give talks on the book and on the Catholic Enlightenment and Jansenism.

Finally, I must thank you so much for this very stimulating dialogue! The questions really made me think. You highlighted some issues that I hadn’t fully thought through.

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